In this short recap of my journalist trip to Japan I would like to share my experience of a close encounter with the… anti-nuclear lobby, writes Wojciech Jakóbik editor in chief at BiznesAlert.pl.
The visits to Japanese nuclear power plants gave me the opportunity to publish interesting (at least for me) information material and comments on the nuclear sector in Japan, which can also develop in Poland provided that the Polish government makes a decision about it and will persistently implement it. I do not intend to give a sentence on whether the atom is a good option for Poland. There are pros and cons, which need to be balanced out by the administration responsible for such decisions. Perhaps this will be solved before the end of the year and the government will present an updated Polish Energy Policy by 2030.
Atom on time and on budget
During my visit to Japan I decided to find out whether a nuclear power plant can be built on time and within the proposed cost estimate. I made a proposition that it is more important whether a nuclear project can be financed than what technology will be used. In response to my articles on BiznesAlert.pl, a heated debat on developing the nuclear energy sector in Poland started in the social media. This was an opportunity to learn about the arguments of the renewable energy sources lobby, which is an ardent critic of the atom. The main arguments included examples from France, Finland and Great Britain where nuclear projects are delayed and thus often become more expensive, inflating the costs several times over the budget. Of course this is true, but it is presented as the one and only truth by the supporters of wind energy. There are however other facts, that do not allow to immediately rule out nuclear energy.
Everything depends on the technology and the contractor. It turns out nuclear power plants can be constructed on time and within budget. Nuclear reactors 6 and 7 constructed by the Hitachi-GE consortium in the world’s biggest power plant Kashiwazaki-Kariwa were constructed in line with the deadlines agreed on before the project began. It took the companies 3 years – 37 months to build reactor no. 6 and 38 in case of no. 7. The case was similar in the Hamaoka power plant (reactor no. 5 – 43 months) and Shika (reactor no. 2 – 42 months). The Japanese are hoping to achieve the same when it comes to the ongoing construction of the third reactor in Shimane (41 months according to plan) and the first one in Ōma (42 months).
According to GE and Hitachi the secret to their consortium’s success is good coordination between engineering and IT, application of advanced construction technologies and good risk management. This allowed them to build a number of ABWR reactors in line with the schedule and cost estimate. This does not automatically mean a similar situation would take place in Poland. Japan is more innovative, has better management and more advanced technologies than Poland. I am also not saying that ABWR is the best technology out of the offers made to Poles. This also does not mean that the atom is as good a solution for Poland as it is for the Japanese islands. In one of my articles I explained why Poland today cannot be like Japan, no matter how hard we tried. However, the data quoted by GE and Hitachi show nuclear power cannot be ignored. It can be effectively developed.
This argument should be most vigorously stressed when the critics of nuclear power try to lead the discussion astray and shut it down by extrapolating a handful of examples onto the entire sector. The same ploy may be used by anti-nuclear movements, which, contrary to the popular belief are already active in Poland. Contrary to Germany, our country does not have a long-lasting tradition of this kind. Despite that they do exist here, and if the Polish Nuclear Energy Program comes back, they will become more active. Shortly after I had published my first article on our visit to Japan I was contacted by the alleged translator of a text on the negative impact of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima. He tried to convince me that our Japanese hosts might have not provided us with all the facts on the subject. He also promised to continue to raise awareness within the society. Therefore, we should expect that if Poland decides to invest in the atom, a campaign against nuclear energy will be kicked off and it will require an adequate response.
Poland has to be prepared
The time has come to share my final conclusion after the visit to Japan. If Poland wants to use nuclear energy it has to be prepared for years of hard work within a tight budget and time regime. Such an endeavor may exceed the current capabilities of the Ministry of Energy when it comes to its staff and knowledge. This is why whatever technological partner will be chosen by Warsaw, they should be required to provide full know-how support, which will allow us to construct the power station on time and within the cost estimates. A lot depends on the contract, which needs to ensure the constructor will not be able to blackmail Poles to leave the construction site unless they are paid more, like it happened in the case of the LNG terminal in Świnoujście.